The NRC today issued a hefty $140,000 civil penalty to the River Bend Nuclear plant. Why? We found some of the employees who operated the reactor from the control room had been surfing the internet when they didn’t have permission. We also found that when the utility learned of the issue, the problem didn’t get fixed quickly and fully. The NRC doesn’t take such situations lightly.
From January to April 2010, nine operators knowingly ignored plant procedures to remain attentive and focused while being in one of the most important positions in the control room, known as the “at the controls” operator. The “at the controls” operator is responsible for monitoring important systems that function to keep the reactor cool and operating safely.
The nine operators have been contacted by NRC Region IV staff and have received violations for ignoring the rules. An NRC investigation found three of the individuals went online so many times — and for such long periods of time — that they are being issued a more severe violation. Some of the sites the operators visited are commonly allowed for limited use in the workplace such as news, sports, hobbies and financial websites.
The utility has taken measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again, such as setting internet blocks on the “at the controls” computer. But the NRC determined that the licensee did not take prompt corrective actions to effectively address the larger safety culture issues raised by the operators’ actions. Only after NRC pressed this matter at a November 21, 2011, regulatory conference did the utility really grasp the larger safety culture issue.
Region IV staff looked at two prior cases involving Fitzpatrick and Peach Bottom, from 2006 and 2009, where operators ignored the rules, surfed the web, and received reprimand. However, it became clear that the River Bend case was more serious due to the number of operators ignoring the rules and doing so while being at a key control room position.
A key part to safe operations at all plants requires utilities and their employees to act with integrity. For NRC to uphold the safety of the public and environment it can’t and will not tolerate deliberate avoidance of the rules.Lara Uselding Region IV Public Affairs